Alistair Speaks to the Prime Minister's Hypocrisy on Electoral Reform

 

Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford)

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my great friend and colleague, the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith.

I am looking at the clock right now and I see that we have little more than half an hour left in this debate. It is a sad state of affairs for a bill that really covers such an important law in which every Canadian has so much vested, not the least of whom are members of the House, that we have to debate it under the yoke of time allocation.

The rush is all the making of the Liberals. We have heard repeatedly about Bill C-33, the first attempt by the Liberals at amending our election laws. That bill was introduced on November 24, 2016, and it is about as far as it got. It stayed at first reading. The member for Perth—Wellington called it a very unloved bill because it seemed to have been forgotten by the Liberal government.

Bill C-33 languished for many months and then finally on April 30 of this year, Bill C-76 was brought in, which swallowed up Bill C-33 but added a whole bunch more.

Then the sense of urgency came. The Liberals suddenly became aware of the timelines they had to deal with this. The Liberal government has a clear majority. It has commanding control over the agenda of the House. The Liberals came to power with an ambitious election agenda, and they are making us pay for their laggardness.

The bill came back to the House for report stage last week. On Thursday, October 25, the government moved time allocation. We really only had a few days to debate the bill, which started on Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday, the Dutch prime minister was here, so it was not a full day. We debated the bill on Friday afternoon. On Monday, the government decided to debate Bill C-84 and Bill C-85. We had the votes at report stage last night, Here we are on Tuesday, the final day to debate the bill at third reading.

It makes a mockery out of the Prime Minister's promise to treat this institution with respect when he rams the bill through, especially when the amendments that were looked at in committee and at report stage were backed up by such solid evidence. The Liberals have demonstrated time and again that it is their way or the highway.

We have to place all of this within the context of the biggest promise the Liberals made with respect to electoral reform, and that was that 2015 would be the last election held under first past the post. Why does this matter? When the hon. clerks at the table read out the tally of the votes, we do not approve a motion with 39% support, yet that is precisely what happens in this place. The Liberals do have a majority government, but it was elected by 39% of the people.

If we truly believe that every vote should count equally, then the House of Commons should reflect how people voted. I certainly wish the Liberals had followed through on their promise, that they had listened to the evidence that was gathered by the special committee on electoral reform and at least had progressed.

If the Liberals want to see how it is really done, they need to look no further than the province of British Columbia, where a B.C. NDP government, led by my friend Premier John Horgan, who is also a constituent, is following through with a promise.

Right now B.C. is having a referendum on electoral reform. I was happy to cast my ballot last weekend in support of proportional representation. This is a great opportunity for the province of B.C. to lead the way on electoral reform. It is a great way to show Canadians that on this issue, if they want progress, if they want a government that keeps its promise, they will vote NDP. John Horgan and the NDP are showing that.

I want to move on because I do not want to be entirely negative. There are some important things in the bill that we support. Many of the changes in Bill C-76 are just simple reversals of the Conservative bill from 2014.

For example, Bill C-76 would reinstate vouching for identity. It would restore the voter ID card. It would remove restrictions on how the Chief Electoral Officer and Elections Canada could communicate with voters. These are all good things and we support them.

On a personal note, the government has incorporated the idea behind my private member's bill, Bill C-279, which I introduced in 2016. That bill sought to limit the length of elections. I think all members, and indeed Canadians, would be very happy if we did not have to go through a 78-day marathon campaign anymore. Seriously, there needs to be a limit on the length of elections, especially with the changes the Conservatives brought in under its government. It greatly expanded how much political parties could spend every day we went past 36 days. I do not think anyone could argue in favour of Canadians needing 78 days to make their decision. Therefore, I am glad to see there is a hard limit of 50 days on the length of elections.

I am also happy to see that Elections Canada would now be able to access information from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. One of the great things I do as a member of Parliament, pretty much every month, is I get a list of new citizens who recently acquired their citizenship. I get to write certificates, congratulating them on acquiring their citizenship and welcoming them as future electors of Canada. If Elections Canada is able to update its registry in co-operation with another government department, all the better. I think every party in this place wants to see more people participate.

The early registration of teenagers, age 14 to 17, is a great step forward. One of the other things I really enjoy doing as a member of Parliament is visiting all the high schools in my riding. When we make efforts to speak to students, especially grade 11 and 12 students, they are actually a very thoughtful and engaged group. They care very much about their future. They care about climate change, about very progressive ideals. I have really valued my exchanges with them. With early registration as voters, it gives them another impetus to get the buy-in to the system so when they turn 18, they can actually go and cast their ballot.

I was fortunate enough to turn 18 in 1997, an election year, and I got to cast my ballot. I can remember doing that with a lot of pride.

Removing the ban on public education by the Chief Electoral Officer is also a great thing, as well as extending the hours of advanced polls. These are all positive measures in my view.

That is not to say that there are not problems. One of the biggest gaps, and it has been clearly identified by the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, who has been doing yeoman's work on this bill on behalf of the NDP, is the privacy rules covering political parties. Every political party in this place gathers a lot of information on Canadians. We know generally how many people live in a household, what their ages are, their genders and, in some cases, what their professions are.

We live in a time now where information warfare is a fact. Hacking is a fact. We need look no further than the examples of the Brexit vote and the recent election in the United States. It would be absolutely foolish of us to pretend it will not to affect Canada. Unfortunately, despite all the evidence that was heard at the procedure and House affairs committee, not only from the Privacy Commissioner but a whole host of experts, the Liberals cynically ignored this important provision. They decided not to strengthen privacy laws covering political parties. Also, nothing was really done with respect to election ads on social media and the Internet.

One of the big things is this. I remember the Liberals amended their own bill at committee to remove the requirement of political parties to keep receipts for their spending. This is the Liberals at committee amending their own bill to take that out. Last night, through report stage amendments, we tried to insert that back in, through vote no. 12. It was voted against. The Chief Electoral Officer has been calling for this since the 38th Parliament. For a party that likes to sing praises of the Chief Electoral Officer, to repeatedly ignore his recommendations and his calls to action on so many occasions makes a mockery of the Liberal statements in this place.

We also tried to move the voting day to Sunday, which I think would have encouraged more participation. On a Monday, I know everyone is entitled to get those hours off, but it sometimes does not always work out.

We tried to be constructive with the bill. Despite the many flaws that exist, we will vote to send it to the other place. However, I will be reminding Canadians of the opportunities that were lost, the opportunities that we attempted to address and the Liberals' flagrant attempts to ignore all of those constructive proposals.

Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North)

Mr. Speaker, at the very start I recognize that the NDP members had a series of amendments they were proposing at the committee stage, and they were not alone. There were also many more amendments from the Conservative Party. As well, there were many suggestions and recommendations from the presenters, including Elections Canada.

What was really encouraging in what came out of that committee stage was that we had many amendments accepted. There were amendments from all parties, in fact. Even the Green Party had direct input in making sure there were some amendments brought forward. Today the legislation is healthier as a direct result. I realize that maybe not everything was accepted that members would have liked. Some of it, no doubt, could be very easily justified.

I just wanted to provide more of a comment than a question.

Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford)

Mr. Speaker, I very much accept what the hon. member said. Many amendments were moved. Some were accepted, some were not.

The problem is that we are not having enough time to debate. Report stage is already over and we are now at third reading. The Liberal government has not given this House enough time to deliberate what happened at committee. It goes right against what the Liberals themselves proposed on April 10, 2014.

The member for Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, the member for Malpeque and even the member for Winnipeg North have stood in this place repeatedly to argue that time allocation measures should not be used any time this House is deliberating on our election laws.

That is the big issue I have, not so much with the amendments but with this House's ability to democratically deliberate on those measures.

Colin Carrie (Oshawa)

Mr. Speaker, I was just wondering if my colleague for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford could comment on two things for us. He highlighted some of the hypocrisy of the current government. It is always good to criticize there, but how can we make it better? As well, his party is going to vote to send it to the other place.

I was wondering if my colleague would be supportive of strengthening things in this bill to keep foreign entities from undermining our democratic institutions. It is one of the things we are worried about, and it is a reality today. There are other governments that want to influence the Canadian process with big money being brought in here, and there is not enough in this bill to address that.

Also, however, with regard to by-elections, it seems the government is cherry-picking when they should be taking place. It is stalling three really important by-elections in which Canadians should have a voice.

I was wondering if my colleague could comment on those two issues.

Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford)

Mr. Speaker, I once substituted at the ethics committee when they were looking into Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. There are some great concerns about data harvesting and the foreign influence that goes through that. I know the ethics committee is doing some great work peeling back the layers of the onion to discover how deep the rot goes. It is something we absolutely have to be on guard against in this time and age.

I agree with the member with respect to by-elections. The Liberals, let us face it, do not have a good excuse for delaying the calling of those by-elections. It is no secret that 300,000 Canadians who would vote in those remaining by-elections are without representation in this place. Our leader announced that he was going to run on August 8. It was very clear.

We look forward to seeing the Liberals actually live up to their promises to call those by-elections, making sure those unrepresented Canadians get members of Parliament in this place. That is the right thing to do.

Murray Rankin (Victoria)

Mr. Speaker, through you, I would like to ask my colleague for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford why he thinks the Liberals chose to not go ahead with getting receipts to prove there has been no fraud in an election, and why they took that out of the bill at the eleventh hour.

Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford)

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure I can accurately answer that. It is a question I will be posing to my constituents, and maybe to the Liberal candidate for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford during the next election. What was his political party so afraid of that it will not produce receipts for what it spent on advertising?

If the Chief Electoral Officer is going to have these investigative powers, it makes sense that the political parties should be compelled to not only store the receipts but hand them over to the Chief Electoral Officer. We are really talking about transparency, openness and making sure political parties play by the rules. That seems to me to be an easy fix.

I will let the Liberal candidate explain that in my riding in 2019.